Discover INDIA:the education of a Dancer

The Rare Book Society of India proposes often fascinating articles about Indian Culture. I report here  an article contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on “INDIAN DANCE”, by Ananda Coomaraswamy. He mentions about initiation of a dancer and the worship of talaikkol.

He writes: “An account of the education of a dancer is given in the Tamil Silappadhikaram. She is initiated in her fifth year by means of the tandiyampidittu ceremony.

Instruction is begun in her seventh year and must last at least five years. In her twelfth year the pupil may appear in public and the teacher receives a reward.” While writing about Indian dance generally Ananda Coomaraswamy quotes “three examples of songs sung by the dancer while dancing and forming the theme of the dance–the first from northern India (Mathura), the second from the south (Tanjore) and the third with an antiquity of a millennium and a half” from one of Kalidasa’s words. The words of a Tanjore song are descriptive of Vishnu.

Is he the great being who rides on Garuda?
Is he the great being who sleeps on a snake?
Is he the great being who lifted Mt. Govardbana upon his little finger?
Is he the great being who assumed the form of Fish Avatar?”

In the same article Coomaraswamy mentions about Indian dance in general. “Natya is dancing used in a drama (nataka) as part of the plot. (The word natayati, “gesturing” or “acting as if”, is a regular stage direction whenever a particular action or mood is to be portrayed.) Nrtya is dancing by means of explicit gestures that expounds a theme; Nrtta is dancing to music, but without a definite theme and includes desi (folk) dancing. The first two are of the same character. Beyond this, Tandava is a masculine and vigorous style; Lasya is a feminine and graceful style. The dance in its higher forms (nrtya) as distinguished from merely decorative is a sort of pantomime in which a story is told, or events or persons alluded to, by means of formal gestures (angikabhinaya) presented in a rhythmic sequence and accompanied by singing and instrumental music; it is a kind of visible poetry with a definite meaning.” Ananda Coomaraswamy specifically mentions about the dances of victory attributed in the Silappadhikaram to “Subrahmanya, the God of War and Kudaikuttu or Umbrella Dance and Kudakuttu or Pot Dance”

He writes further: “It is by no means unusual to meet with the folk dances with the environment of the higher culture. The Sangita Ratnakara, an authoritative work on music and dramatics, enumerates ten varieties. The Tamil Silappadhikaram enumerates dances (not 14 but 11), of which the majority are for use at the Indra Puja festival and of these several such as Kottavai dance with a rice measure are of a folk character.” The Marakkal Dance has been given by Coomaraswamy as “Rice Measure Dance,” which term coincides with “stilts”–literally, wooden leg. In reality, it is the dance on stilts–Faked Horse Dance of these days–poykkal kutirai attam, the dancer dancing on stilts.

Read more:

In the Image:
A Dancing Girl – 1870
A South Indian dancing-girl wearing a crimson and yellow sari, a green blouse with a pink and green rose garland. Gold jewellery decorates the dancer’s hair and wrists along with silver bells on her feet. She is standing with her hands positioned in a typical dancing pose beside a pillar entwined with a rose garland


About Odile Milton

I travel through words whenever possible. Odile Milton is my signature on the web as I wanted an alter ego to indicate only my writings and works, not my personal life. Odile like the dancer in black swan, and Milton from the novel An old-fashioned girl. View all posts by Odile Milton

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